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Guerrillas in pitched battle with army

March 15, 1986

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Justice Minister Enrique Parejo said Friday the M-19 guerrilla movement is in ″a state of craziness, which is making it sacrifice the lives of its young people, of soldiers and of innocent civilians.″

On Thursday, the left-wing guerrilla group lost 35 members in a pitched battle with government soldiers near the city of Cali, according to military sources, and M-19 leader Alvaro Fayad Delgado was killed in a shootout with police in Bogota.

Bogota newspapers, attributing their reports to military sources, said four soldiers also were killed in the battle on the outskirts of Cali, 180 miles southwest of Bogota, and helicopter gunships and light tanks were pursuing stragglers from the rebel band.

They said it was the largest battle to be fought near a major Colombian city.

Lt. Antonio Carreras, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said there would be no official report on the battle until the fighting is over.

Fayad, a founder of the M-19 movement, and a woman identified by police as Maria Cristina de Rosero were shot to death when they resisted arrest during a police raid Thursday night on a Bogota apartment, officials reported.

Police said the apartment was owned by Mrs. Rosero’s husband, Raul Rosero, a Colombian composer, but they gave no further information about him.

Fayad had been in hiding since he was released from prison in 1982 along with dozens of other rebels under an amnesty decreed by President Belisario Betancur.

M-19 guerrillas seized the Palace of Justice in downtown Bogota on Nov. 6 and 115 people were killed in the siege and army assault that recaptured the building two days later. Among the victims were all 35 guerrillas, 11 Supreme Court justices and one associate justice.

In 1980, M-19 rebels stormed the Dominican Republic’s embassy during a diplomatic reception and held 17 ambassadors, including U.S. envoy Diego Asencio, hostage for two months. The captives were freed in exchange for a ransom of $1 million and the guerrillas’ passage to Cuba.

M-19 stands for the April 19 Movement, which Fayad and several other men created after claiming fraud in the presidential election of April 19, 1970. The movement subsequently adopted an ideology patterned on Cuban communism.

Colombia severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1981, claiming that Fidel Castro’s regime had trained and equipped 130 M-19 field commanders who then returned to Colombia to lead the revolt.

Army intelligence officials estimate that M-19 has about 3,000 fighters. It is the most active of four left-wing guerrilla groups operating in Colombia, but the largest, the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, is still observing a truce with the government.

Military sources said the battle outside Cali began Wednesday when the rebels tried to ambush an army patrol. Cali has a population of 1.5 million.

Army officials had said before the latest battle that 219 rebels and 28 soldiers and policemen were killed in clashes in the mountainous Cali area since M-19 began a series of operations there in mid-January.

M-19 signed a truce with government forces in 1984, but last June it accused the army of repeatedly violating the cease-fire and withdrew from the pact.

Fayad was the third M-19 leader to be killed in the past three years.

Jaime Bateman died in a plane crash in 1983 and his successor, Ivan Ospina, was killed last year in a shootout with soldiers and police in Cali.

Betancur offered amnesty to imprisoned guerrillas and pardons to others shortly after his election in 1982. Most of the dozens of freed prisoners returned to their guerrilla units and fewer than 300 of the estimated 15,000 rebels accepted the pardons.

The Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, with an estimated 10,000 members, has continued to observe the truce and entered candidates in some races in Sunday’s elections for the National Assembly. The pro-Soviet organization won 3 percent of the vote and and four seats in the 199-member House of Representatives and two seats in the 114-member Senate.

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